Tonga investigates rusting cans of fish sent to cyclone victims
Tongan health officials investigating reports that disaster victims were sent rusting cans of fish.
The Tonga Ministry of Health is investigating complaints from cyclone victims on Ha'apai about the quality of canned fish sent to them.
The food items were distributed by the National Emergency Management Committee to families affected by Tropical Cyclone Ian last month.
Radio Tonga reports callers complained the fish was not fit to eat.
The director of the National Emergency management office, Leveni 'Aho, says he also received complaints and had the fish tested by the Ministry of Health.
Mr 'Aho says 15,000 cans had been distributed in the cyclone zone from the end of January until February the 5th.
He says the items, which had been purchased in Nuku'alofa, had an expiry date of June this year.
The Director of Health in Tonga is Dr Siale Akau'ola told Don Wiseman about the investigation.
DR SIALE AKAU'OLA: They had actually investigated and found out that the majority of the complaints were based around rustings in a lot of those cans. So what they have done is they have gone back to the retail warehouse where those things were purchased and complained to the shop. They found out that the warehouse where these cans were kept had a leaking roof and a lot of these canned fish were already damaged before they sold it to our relief people. So they have returned the damaged goods and refunded the money from that. But I think they have also warned people that if they come across a lot of those damaged tinned fish not to consume them. At the same time we are still investigating other canned fish that does not have any damage to the cans, just to make sure there is no other contamination, potential contamination of canned food.
DON WISEMAN: Were people getting sick?
SA: There are one or two allegations so that is why we are looking again at the food, at the cans, just to make sure they are not being contaminated, but I have also advised the doctor at Ha'apai to do what he feels is most appropriate. If he feels there are cans that ought not to be eaten then he has to stop people from consuming them. But of course we need some clear evidence that the cans themselves are actually contaminated or spoiled, before the containers are damaged.
DW: Will the Ministry take action against the company that sold the fish?
SA: Like I said we are still collecting evidence at the moment because what we have found so far, it is only the damage to the containers, and it doesn't look as if it's deliberate. I think it is a bit of carelessness to sell things that have been rusted through, but as I said the case is not closed yet, we are still investigating and looking at avenues to address this problem.
DW: And one of those avenues could be legal action eventually?
SA: Obviously. Yes.
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